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Panic Assistance While Driving

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Panic While Driving Education
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highway Frequently, people who have panic attacks develop a fear of having a panic attack while driving a car. They are afraid they will lose control and hurt themselves or others. For most people this fear is based upon inaccurate assumptions about panic attacks and how an attack can affect driving. Although there are a few people who may have medical conditions that can be triggered by a panic attack, most people who have panic attacks can safely drive or make the decision to determine the need to stop driving while calming themselves. If you have been checked out physically by your physician and cleared for driving, this audio can help explain why you can safely drive with a panic attack.

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Panic Assistance While Driving
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This audio can help coach you while having a panic attack when driving. It is meant to be used for therapeutic driving exposures when challenging the avoidance of driving. It is not meant for general coaching. Listen to the Panic While Driving Education audio prior to using this audio during driving. Consult with your therapist and obtain clearance from your physician prior to using. For more information, read Managing Panic and Anxiety Attacks.

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Before downloading and using this audio, indicate that you understand and agree with the following terms:
I have read Excel At Life's Terms of Use.
I have listened to the Panic While Driving Education audio.
I have been cleared to drive by a physician who is aware of my panic attacks.
I have discussed using this audio with my therapist.

Transcript: Panic While Driving Education
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A problem for many people who have panic attacks is the fear of having a panic attack while driving. Typically they are fearful of losing control and hurting themselves or others. Frequently, they may stop driving altogether due to the fear of having a panic attack while driving. If this is true for you, the following information can help you gain greater control over your life by fully understanding the nature of panic and how to manage your anxiety.

The following educational information should be fully understood before using the Panic Assistance While Driving audio. Also, prior to using the Panic Assistance While Driving be sure to have a full medical evaluation as well as an independent person who can determine your driving ability while you are having a panic attack. For those who have such clearance the following is necessary to understand to effectively use the Panic Assistance While Driving audio.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a panic attack is the flight or fight response. What this means is that your body is preparing to deal with a threat. Although this threat is not a physical threat such as an attacker, your body perceives and prepares for it in the same way. When your body prepares to deal with a threat it is actually at a higher level of awareness and ability to react than normal. The symptoms you experience during a panic attack are due to the way the body prepares itself. For instance, during a threat you need to react quickly so your body speeds up your heart rate and respiration as well as tenses your muscles. This, as well as other physical reactions, is the normal behavior of the body when a threat is perceived.

In the case of having a panic while driving the threat is the fear of having a panic attack. Most likely, at some point you had a spontaneous, out-of-the-blue panic attack while driving. This first attack could have been due to stress or lack of sleep or excessive caffeine or numerous other possible causes. However, it was most likely terrifying to have a panic attack while driving because you FELT out-of-control. This doesn't mean you were out-of-control, but that is how you felt. You probably had catastrophic thoughts related to being out-of-control such as “What if I lost control of the car?” or “What if I passed out? I could have had an accident!”

This type of incident accompanied by the catastrophic thinking increases the likelihood that you will have other panic attacks while driving. In other words, the first panic attack occurred spontaneously but, most likely, you have created the following panic attacks due to your fear of having another one while driving. By understanding this and understanding what a panic attack is, you can reduce the occurrence of panic while driving or at least be able to tolerate it so it doesn't interfere with your mobility.

Although a panic attack feels terrifying, it is a normal response of the body. As a normal response it is meant to help you, not hurt you. For instance, unless there is some other medical condition, people don't pass out during a panic attack because that would not be a good way for the body to handle a threat. The body is trying to prepare you to either face the threat or to run to protect yourself. If you have been cleared by your physician and do not have other medical conditions that can cause a loss of consciousness you won't pass out during a panic attack. The physical explanation for this is that when you have a panic attack you will have an increase in blood pressure whereas fainting is due to a decrease in blood pressure.

In addition, you don't need to worry about the increase in blood pressure because the normal body can handle temporary increases in blood pressure. Changes in blood pressure are normal under certain circumstances such as when the body is preparing for a threat and activating the flight-or-fight response. Since it is normal, it is not something to be concerned with.

In addition to the fear of passing out, people who have a fear of having a panic attack while driving may fear that they won't be able to handle driving, that somehow they will lose control of the car. However, as I always point out to my clients, you didn't lose control of the car during your first panic attack and have an accident. You didn't take your hands off the wheel, close your eyes and start screaming. And if it didn't happen during the first panic attack when you were least prepared for it, why would it happen now when you are more prepared for it?

As I said earlier, a panic attack occurs because the body is preparing for a threat. Because you are prepared you are more able to react and handle an emergency situation. So even though people might say to me “I felt like I couldn't stay in my lane” or “I barely was able to pull the car over to the side”, the evidence is that they WERE able to drive and WERE able to pull over. Even though they didn't feel like they were thinking clearly, they were able to think, react, and handle driving.

The reason it might seem like you are not thinking clearly during these times is because the brain speeds up and reacts more automatically during emergency situations. Generally, people don't trust these more automatic reactions because they don't seem reasoned out. However, for certain behaviors with which we are quite familiar our brain is very capable of engaging more automatically in problem-solving and reacting to a threat. Notice, however, I did say when we engage in familiar behaviors. Obviously, if you are just learning to drive and have a panic attack you may not be able to react in this automatic way because your brain hasn't learned the procedure. However, a panic attack does not affect the driving ability of experienced drivers.

Another issue many people have when learning methods to manage their panic is the fear that focusing on breathing or other relaxation methods will also interfere with driving. However, if, under normal circumstances, you are able to drive while talking to a companion, listening to the radio or an audio book, or even just thinking about something other than driving, you should be able to safely use the breathing and relaxation methods.

However, it is important to be thoroughly familiar with these methods prior to using them while driving when having a panic attack. It is best to become skilled with the deep relaxation and breathing methods when you are not anxious. Practicing these methods daily will help you to become more skilled with them. Then, once you are skilled with the methods, it is best to practice them while driving when you are not having a panic attack. If you have panic attacks whenever you get in a car you may need to start by sitting in your car and practicing the methods. Then expand that to driving on your neighborhood street or around a deserted parking lot. In this way you can get used to relying on the breathing and relaxation methods while driving. These methods can become more automatic with practice so that you don't have to think too much about them.

Once you are prepared by practicing both the self-talk and the relaxation methods described in this audio, then you can use the Panic Assistance While Driving audio to help you remember and utilize the tools you have practiced.

Transcript: Panic While Driving Assistance
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Before you use this audio to help you with panic attacks while driving be sure you have listened to the Panic While Driving Education audio and that you are thoroughly skilled in using the relaxation methods to calm yourself. In addition, do not listen to this audio for the first time when having a panic attack while driving—it is important to be familiar with it before using it for panic. The purpose of this audio is to help remind you of your skills when having a panic attack while driving.

Focus on what I am saying. Take a deep breath and listen to what I am telling you. A panic attack will NOT hurt you. It is a normal way that the body works. You do not need to be afraid of it. Even though you might feel out-of-control, you are NOT out-of-control. In fact, anxiety is the body preparing for an emergency. Your body KNOWS what it needs to do. You need to trust in that.

Now, take a breath. Just focus on your breath. A panic attack will not hurt you. Even though you may be driving now, you are still able to drive safely, or if you need to, at least until you can pull over in a safe place and calm yourself down.

Many people have had panic attacks while driving. Even though it feels terrifying, it doesn't mean you are in danger. Do you feel in danger if you laugh at a joke while driving? Do you feel in danger if you feel sad while driving? These are just different emotions. Anxiety is just a sensation—it doesn't CAUSE you to act in any particular way. In fact, many people with anxiety can hide their anxiety symptoms so well that even those close to them don't know they are having a panic attack. That is because anxiety isn't a behavior. It is an internal emotion.

Continue to focus on what I am saying. Take a deep breath and listen to what I am telling you. A panic attack will NOT hurt you. It is a normal way that the body works. You do not need to be afraid of it. Even though you might feel out-of-control, you are NOT out-of-control. In fact, anxiety is the body preparing for an emergency. Your body KNOWS what it needs to do. You need to trust in that.

Since anxiety is an emotion, you have a choice in your behavior. Just because you feel an emotion doesn't mean you will act in a certain way. You have a choice. Just because you feel out-of-control doesn't mean you will be out-of-control. You have a choice. A feeling isn't the same as behavior.

Now, again, take a breath. Notice your breath. Notice your shoulders relaxing as you exhale.

As I said, a feeling isn't the same as behavior. Have you ever taken your hands off the steering wheel, closed your eyes and started screaming because you were having a panic attack? I doubt it. Instead, you had the presence of mind to do what you needed to do to be safe.

A panic attack is the flight-or-fight system of the body being activated to protect you from threat. Instead of endangering you, this system of the body is meant to protect you. Sure, some of the symptoms feel very uncomfortable and even terrifying but each symptom has a purpose. Rapid heart beat and breathing rate is to increase your ability to react quickly. The tension in your muscles sometimes experienced as pain in the chest and shoulders is to prepare your muscles to respond. If you have an upset stomach it is because your body shuts down unnecessary systems such as digestion so that your whole body can focus on responding to the threat. Even the tunnel vision is normal with the flight-or-fight response because when threatened it is best to stay focused on the threat right in front of you.

Again, take a deep breath and remind yourself that all the symptoms you are experiencing are a normal reaction of the body when it feels threatened. Because it is a normal reaction, it will not hurt you. You WILL be okay. This is just a feeling. You are NOT out-of-control even though you might feel that way. Now, as you breath slowly, let the relaxation flow into your shoulders and down into your arms. All the way down your arms and into your hands. Notice your hands. Frequently, when people have a panic attack while driving they have a death grip on the steering wheel. This only makes your muscles more tense and less reactive. So focus on letting the muscles in your hands relax. You still have a hold of the steering wheel but as your muscles in your hands relax you can feel the tension leaving your shoulders and the rest of your body beginning to relax. Take a breath and let your body relax. It may be difficult to do this at first. Many people feel with panic believe they are less in control when the body is relaxed. However, your muscles are able to react quickly from a relaxed state. Even as you relax you will still be in a normal state of tension. This means you will still have full awareness and reaction.

Take another slow breath and remind yourself that you are in control. That you have choice about what to do even when you are in a state of panic. You have had panic attacks before. Even though you feel like you are losing control, you don't. And you don't lose control because panic is a normal system of the body that is activated to protect you. It's job is to protect you. Trust your body. What you are experiencing won't hurt you.

Because you are afraid of having a panic while driving your brain interprets driving as a threat. However, you can help your brain reinterpret driving by recognizing that you don't need to be afraid of panic. It is just a normal process of the body. As you start to lose your fear of panic while driving, you will have fewer panic attacks. The more you can believe “So what if I panic? It won't hurt me” the panic attacks will start to become less intense and decrease in frequency. This is because it is your fear of the panic that is giving it power over you.

Take another slow breath. Let your muscles relax as you exhale. If you notice tension in your hands, arms, or shoulders, let those muscles relax. Remember, even though you might feel symptoms like weakness or dizziness, healthy people do NOT pass out from panic attacks. When you have a panic attack, blood pressure increases somewhat. However, passing out is due to a decrease in blood pressure. Unless you have some other condition, you will NOT pass out. And you've been checked out by your physician and you KNOW you are safe to drive physically.

Again, take a breath. Focus completely on that breath. Notice the air coming into your lungs. Notice the air leaving your lungs. Let the muscles in your upper body relax. You WILL be okay. The panic cannot hurt you. It is just a physical experience of emotions. It cannot hurt you anymore than being excited about something can hurt you. Are you afraid of losing control and having an accident when you are excited? Most people aren't because they recognize they can feel different emotional reactions and still be able to drive competently.

Certainly, however, you need to assess your ability to focus on your driving. For instance, if you are crying and can't see very well due to the tears you need to pull over when you are safely able to do so.

Take a breath and remind yourself that the body can react effectively and quickly during a panic because anxiety is to prepare you to react. Even the fact that you are able to have catastrophic thoughts about losing control and having an accident shows that you are able to think during a panic attack. Your brain does not shut down. The opposite is true. It is working at a heightened level. Which is also why you are able to have many different thoughts while having a panic attack while driving. You ARE able to think. You haven't lost control of your ability to problem-solve and to reason out how to handle this situation.

Take another breath while relaxing your upper body. Remind yourself that it only FEELS out-of-control. You are still able to think, able to react, and are fully in control. Anxiety doesn't affect your behavior or ability to make decisions and to act. You are still thinking. You can still make choices. And you will be okay because you are in control of your behavior.

If you need to, you can listen to this audio again to help you cope with your panic attack.

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